Ian O'Doherty on US election 2016: One candidate's too frail and the other is too mad
Published 13/09/2016 | 02:30
It says a lot about just how surreal this American election cycle has become that they couldn't even have a 9/11 commemoration without one of the candidates grabbing all the headlines.
Of course, the fact that the headlines were all generated for the wrong reasons, and centered around footage of an obviously collapsing candidate being bundled into a people carrier, has raised the one question Democrats have been both dreading and dismissing - is Hillary Clinton physically incapable of doing the job she's applying for?
As it happens, fainting is not unheard of among US presidents.
George W Bush infamously came off second best with a pretzel in 2002. On that occasion, the salty, savoury snack stuck in his throat and he promptly passed out, leaving him with a split lip and an unsightly brawler's bruise above his eye.
His father also experienced a similar, although rather more public humiliation, when he managed the impressive feat of vomiting on the Japanese prime minister before fainting at a dinner in Tokyo in 1992.
Ronald Reagan was nearly struck down by a peanut in California in the 1980s, which would have surely amused the peanut-farming Jimmy Carter.
So why is the world making such a big deal about 68-year-old Clinton feeling a bit weak, when it's actually surprisingly common for presidents to have such incidents?
The Clinton campaign can try to spin this one as much as they like. But everyone knows they have been treading water on her medical records since she suffered a concussion and a blood clot on her brain in 2012.
Since then, they have relentlessly attacked the idea that there might be a serious underlying medical condition by falling back to that favourite Clinton cop-out - it's all part of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
On Sunday, in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, that excuse died the most public death imaginable.
We now have a situation where one candidate looks physically unable to do the job, while her opponent seems profoundly psychologically unsuited.
In other words, one is frail and the other is mad.
Both Clintons have based their careers on lies and deceit, and a fawning media was prepared to take their word over evidence.
The malevolent genius of this approach is that Hillary Clinton has been able to bat away successive controversies - Benghazi, those pesky lesser-spotted emails, the director of the FBI essentially calling her a liar - by simply declaring them either irrelevant or merely obscuring policy issues which voters shouldn't be distracted by.
In direct contravention of her claims, we're not looking at a conspiracy at all, but a cover-up.
No candidate has ever spent as little time with the press or the public as Hillary. Her long absences - interspersed by carefully choreographed occasional appearances - have only added to speculation, rather than dampening it. But if her condition on Sunday was anything to go by, that might have been the most prudent move, after all.
In a development which manages to be both incredible yet not at all surprising, her supporters have been quick to employ the same defence that they used for her email-wiping scandal - she's old and getting on a bit, and what can you do?
It's a testament to these truly strange times that such arguments, which would usually be employed to bury a candidate, are now being used to save one.
One of the many reasons why Donald Trump lost a lot of his initial support is because so many of his statements have been genuinely worrying. Frankly, the only people who are still as enthusiastic for him now as they were, say, six months ago, are the alt-right and the kind of people who genuinely don't care if, as he once joked, he steps out onto 5th Avenue and starts shooting bystanders. At least I think he was joking.
It would be nice to see similar honesty from pro-Clinton people. It would be nice if they admitted that they were genuinely concerned about the physical state of their candidate. Instead, we've just seen increasingly desperate attempts to portray her 'episode' as another sexist and ageist smear campaign.
If the footage of Clinton slumping to the ground, only to be saved from complete humiliation by a Secret Service guy, hadn't been released, her campaign staffers would now be saying the whole thing was a figment of Trump's demented imagination.
But she can't white-wash this white-out. Even the fact that she lost one of her shoes in the incident adds a further layer of mortification to one of the most disastrous days ever suffered by a candidate.
Assuming we take the pneumonia story at face value - and you'd be a fool if you did - how many more excuses can she hope to conjure before her own supporters realise that she is simply a busted flush?
No Democrat wants to see her running mate Tim Kaine stepping into the breach, and rumours of a late call up for Joe Biden refuse to go away.
But assuming that she insists on staying in the race - and you'd be a fool if you didn't - the first debate between her and Trump is due to take place in less than two weeks' time.
If she literally can't stand the heat at a memorial service, how do her supporters think she will cope with the pressure of performing for an hour-and-a-half, under incredibly hot TV spotlights, with Trump goading her at every available opportunity?
The weirdest election of our lifetime just got even weirder.